Israeli Minister Slams Police Chief's Call to Shut Down Social Media During Civil Unrest

After Israel's police chief touted the benefits of censoring social media during periods of civil unrest for the second time, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev denounces the 'unfortunate statement'

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Chief of Police Kobi Shabtai
Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Israeli Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai called again on Thursday for the shutdown of social media networks to prevent incitement to violence in cases of civil unrest. Shabtai first mentioned this idea in an interview with Israeli daily Yediot Ahronoth published Wednesday, and repeated them even after drawing heavy criticism, especially from Minister of Public Security Omer Bar-Lev.

"In cases of real threats to the public safety," Shabtai said Thursday at a ceremony for the Jewish New Year at the national police headquarters, “I am of the opinion that in such circumstances, the social networks need to be blocked,”

Bar-Lev, who is not running in the upcoming election, reacted to Shabtai’s remarks on Thursday calling them an "unfortunate statement."

In an interview with Israeli radio 103 FM, Bar-Lev said: "In a democratic country, free communication is the lifeblood of democracy. It is not the commissioner's role to determine such things, even if in his opinion there is an extreme event of one kind or another. We maintain freedom of expression in the State of Israel."

In an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth on Wednesday, Shabtai referred to the clashes that occurred during Operation Guardian of the Walls in May of last year, and said that in the case of widespread social unrest, platforms should be blocked to prevent incitement.

According to him, "We are in a democratic country, but there is a limit. Social media rushes people to act." He revealed that he has already proposed such a policy in a government meeting convened during last May's race riots, before he clarified: “I’m talking about locking those inciting to carry out terror attacks and take to the streets. Shut down, calm the area, and when the situation is calm, resume."

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